Advocates try to rein in prescriptions from dentists to combat opioid crisis

BY Leah Mishkin, Correspondent |

Dr. Elisa Velazquez graduated from dental school 19 years ago. She’s now the president of the New Jersey Academy of Pediatric Dentistry says education is one of many factors that may have led to the current opioid crisis.

“We want to remove dentistry as a factor,” she said.

According to the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey, dentists write 12 percent of all opioid prescriptions.

“Especially for young teenagers that may be getting their wisdom taken out,” said Timothy McMahon, special agent for the New Jersey division of the DEA. “Today, about 75 to 80 percent of new heroin users started out by abusing prescription painkillers first.”

McMahon said the DEA’s diversion unit focuses its efforts on anyone who can legally prescribe the drugs.

“There is a very small percentage of the medical community unfortunately that are no different than a regular drug dealer, that are looking the other way and are willing to take cash payments to write a prescription,” he said.

But McMahon said they’re the exception and New Jersey is leading the way in efforts to lower rates.

“We have been seeing over the past two years the number of prescriptions written for prescription opioids have been going down across New Jersey which is a great sign. It means doctors are looking at other alternatives,” said McMahon.

“So the alternatives are Ibuprofen and Tylenol,” said Velazquez.

The Executive Director of Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey, Angelo Valente, says New Jersey was the first state in the country to pass a law that requires doctors to have a conversation with a patient, or their parent if they’re under age, before an opioid prescription is written.

“To learn about the addictive quality of the drug and also to share if there are any non-opioid alternatives that a patient might be able to use,” said Valente.

New Jersey now also requires doctors to have at least an hour of education every two years on safe prescribing of opioids.

“We all want to do our part,” said Velazquez.

A recent Do No Harm symposium highlighted the New Jersey Dental Association guidelines for prescribing narcotics. The goal is fewer young people getting fewer prescriptions of a potentially dangerous drug, and that means fewer addicts and overdoses.